Alma 39

 

The Lord Redeems His Covenant Children

      Alma 1 -- Alma 44


 

 

Alma 39:3 Corianton . . . Did Go over into the Land of Siron, among the Borders of the Lamanites:

 

     Corianton "did go over into the land of Siron" (Alma 39:3), implying that the land of Siron was in somewhat of a valley, and that it was separated from the land of Antionum by an elevated divide or a body of water.

     That the land of Siron was "among the borders of the Lamanites" might imply that the land of Siron was either a local land within the land of Antionum near the southern border, or that Siron was the name of the land on the other side of Antionum's southern border.

 

Alma 39:3 Siron:

 

     In Alma 39:3 we find that Corianton "did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel." According to the geographical theory of John Sorenson, the land of Siron would have been in the area around Macuspana, toward Palenque, where appropriately early cultural remains are likewise found. This place lies "over" hilly country into the next watershed from Teapa, the proposed site for the land of Antionum. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 251]

 

Alma 39:3 Siron (Illustration): John Sorenson's proposed site for Siron (the area around Macuspana, toward Palenque). Archaeological Map of Middle America: Land of the Feathered Serpent. Produced by the Cartographic Division, National Geographic Society, 1972.

 

Alma 39:3 Isabel:

 

     According to Ariel Crowley, the name "Isabel" (Alma 39:3) has been criticized as an anachronism in the Book of Mormon. This name has been called a colloquial Spanish, French and English diminutive of the name Elizabeth, of recent origin and certainly not dating into any period centuries before the time of Christ.

     The Book of Mormon passage, rightly understood, is illuminating on this point, and on the subject of the care in translation which characterizes the Book of Mormon. It occurs in these words:

           "And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto men; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron, among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel." (Alma 39:3)

 

     By derivation the name Isabel, variously spelled Isabelle, Isabella, and otherwise in modern tongues, arose from the name Elizabeth, which is the anglicized form of Elisheba (see Exodus 6:23), along with the names Elspeth, Beth, Eliza, Liza, Lizzie and other variations readily recognizable (see Century Encyclopedia of Names 2139: Longhead, Dictionary of Given Names, ad loc.). These names have nothing whatever to do with the name Isabel appearing in Alma 39:3. . . .

     The ancient Hebrew name Isabel is rightly to be treated as though spelled Ishabaal, or better Ishahbel. Its usage dates to Adam. According to the most ancient traditions (Ginzberg 1:66-68; Sotah 17a; Yerushalmi 10, 12c etc.) "Adam called his wife Ishah, and himself he called Ish, abandoning the name Adam, which he had borne before the creation of Eve (Chavah)." In ancient Hebrew, Ish means man, and Ishah or Isha means woman, fundamentally. However, the term began to acquire implications of sin, until the name Ishah acquired the connotation seducer (feminine) it being said that Eve was the seducer of Adam to the fall. In later years, and still more than a thousand years before Christ, the name had reached the point where Isha implied adulteress.

     The name caused difficulty at times. Coupled with the word baal, which is sometimes written bel, it came to have reference to the evil heathen god Merodach, who was known by both forms as Bel and Baal. Originally baal, like Ishah had no adverse meaning, being sometimes applied to God as a mere signification of deity. But it also, acquiring disrepute and unfavorable colloquial meaning, caused the prophet Hosea to order a discontinuance of the use of baal when referring to the God of Israel (Hosea 2:16). [Ariel L. Crowley, About the Book of Mormon, pp. 109-110]

     Note* In view of this apparent use of a "Baal" name in the name "Isabel," we find the words of Hugh Nibley very interesting. He says:

           "[I] was once greatly puzzled over the complete absence of Baal names from the Book of Mormon. By what unfortunate oversight had the authors of that work failed to include a single name containing the element Baal, which thrives among the personal names of the Old Testament? . . . It happens that for some reason or other the Jews at the beginning of the sixth century B.C. would have nothing to do with Baal names . . . 'Out of some four hundred personal names among the Elephantine papyri, not one is compounded of Baal.' . . . It is very significant indeed, but hardly more so than the uncanny acumen which the Book of Mormon displays on this point." (Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, pp. 34-36, including a quote from the late J. Offord.) (See also John W. Welch, "Hugh Nibley and the Book of Mormon," in the Ensign, April 1985, p. 52)

 

     What then are we to deduce? Is Hugh Nibley wrong? Perhaps not! Maybe Alma 39:3 is a comment on the Mulekite culture, and influences they have brought to the Jaredite culture. In other words, perhaps the name "Isabel" did not come from the Nephites of 600 B.C., it came from the Jaredites! Furthermore, the name "Isabel" might not just refer to a single adulteress woman, but to a cult or religion, one that had its origins in the lands of Mesopotamia where the Jaredites came from. Thus, the crime of Corianton might have been that he became an active part of (or perhaps a defender of?) a Jaredite-Mulekite culture that, among other unrighteous things, condoned illicit sex. Whatever his sins, Corianton seems to have repented of them and to have become a missionary once again (see Alma 42:31; 43:1; 31:7; 35:14).

     The reader should be aware that if Corianton's sin was in defending a culture that "wasn't all that bad," then this more clearly explains Alma's lecture to him. Corianton was "worried concerning the resurrection of the dead" (Alma 40:1). Apparently he wondered how it was possible for God to "draw the line" on who to resurrect in glory. Alma, in response, made a key statement: "time only is measured unto men" (Alma 40:8). Apparently, what he wanted Corianton to realize was the demands of justice on people living in any kind of sin. ("Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness."). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 11:21]

 

Alma 39:3 Isabel:

 

     In an article from the Ancient America Foundation Newsletter (July 1996), Garth Norman answers the question, "Is Lago de Izabal (Lake Izabal) in Guatemala a native Mayan name, or Spanish name from Queen Isabella of Spain, or is it possibly from the Book of Mormon name of Isabel (Alma 39:3)?

     The beautiful Lago de Izabal (Lake Izabal) is on the northern edge of the lower Motagua Valley's eastern fertile lowlands. It is the largest lake in Guatemala, four times the size of Lake Atitlan in the western highlands. This lake was part of a major Mayan trade route connecting interior overland trade with sea trade through the Rio Dulce (Sweet or Pleasant River) which begins at a narrow crossing on the eastern end of Lake Izabal and flows into the Caribbean Sea. The Mayan ruins of Quirigua, located just over the hills due south of Lake Izabal, attest to the ancientness of this trade route.

     According to some Mesoamerican Book of Mormon models (Hauck, Norman, Allen) this location fits well for the general territory where Corianton became involved with "the harlot Isabel" (Alma 39:3). [Corianton traveled to the land of Siron (Alma 39:3) from the land of Antionum (Alma 31:3). Antionum was "east of the land of Zarahemla, which lay nearly bordering upon the seashore, which was south of the land of Jershon, which also bordered upon the wilderness south, which wilderness was full of Lamanites" (Alma 31:3).] According to [Norman's] model, the low Las Minas range running east-west between Lake Izabal and the Mayan ruins of Quirigua form part of the "narrow strip of wilderness" border between the general land of Nephi and the general land of Zarahemla (see Alma 22:27).

     Although both Spanish and native Mayan place names are scattered throughout this region, the name Iza--bal could have Mayan roots. Evidence of similar Mayan roots are also seen in other Mesoamerican place names such as Izalco, Izapa, Balam, and Zibalba. [V. Garth Norman, Ancient America Foundation Newsletter, No. 8 July 1996, pp. 9-10] [See Geographical Theory Maps] [See the additional commentary on Alma 39:3]

 

Alma 39:9 Cross Yourself in [All] These Things:

 

     According to Daniel Ludlow, the meaning of the expression "cross yourself" (Alma 39:9) is clarified in other scriptures. For example, 3 Nephi 12:30 says: "For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell." In Matthew 16:24 the Savior says, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Both of these scriptures indicate that to "cross yourself" means to deny yourself. In the [Joseph Smith Translation] of the New Testament the Savior makes it absolutely clear that this is the meaning of the term: "And now for a man to take up his cross, is to deny himself all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and keep my commandments" (Matthew 16:26). [Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p. 223]

 

Alma 39:9 Cross Yourself:

   

     According to Robert Millet, for Corianton to "cross himself" (Alma 39:9) was for him to turn away from evil inclinations, to deny himself of worldly lusts, to work at cross purposes from the natural man, to forsake worldly paths, and to chart and navigate a course of righteousness. (See 3 Nephi 12:30) [Robert L. Millet, "The Path of Repentance," in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 2, p. 51]

 

Alma 39:9 Cross Yourself in [All] These Things:

 

     Hugh Nibley notes the words of a hymn, "A poor wayfaring man of grief did often cross me on my way." When I was going my way untroubled, this poor wayfaring man drew my attention, like the good Samaritan on the road to Jericho. So he had to change his course and stop and consider. In the end he had to make a great sacrifice. He crossed him on his way. That means to stop you or to check you on your way and make you consider where you are going and what you are doing. So that's what you do--you cross yourself. You stop yourself dead still and say, "What am I doing here; this has got to stop and stop right now." Alma tells his son, don't commit one more sin like that whatever you do--it's very dangerous. So "cross yourself in all these things" (Alma 39:9). [Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 469]

 

Alma 39:9 Cross Yourself:

 

     John Gee writes that in Alma 39:9, Alma exhorts his son Corianton to "repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things; for except ye do this ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Oh, remember, and take it upon you, and cross yourself in these things."

     The reflexive use of the verb "to cross" is unusual and awkward in modern English. This usage is also unique in the Book of Mormon. Three times the Book of Mormon uses the verb to cross in an entirely different sense: in Mosiah 12:19; Alma 10:16; and Helaman 9:19. In these passages, the verb to cross is used as a synonym for "to contradict," a point made explicit in Alma 10:16. All of these passages are in the context of legal interrogation. Alma, having been a judge himself for eight years (Mosiah 29:42-44; Alma 1:10-14; 4:15-20), uses a legal metaphor with his wayward son. He talks about how Corianton had "been guilty of so great a crime" and that his crimes "will stand as a testimony against [him] at the last day." By repenting and forsaking his sins, Corianton can cross-contradict-the testimony of his crimes. Also Alma then urges his son "to counsel with [his] elder brothers" and to "give heed to their counsel," thus using his brothers the way a defendant uses a legal counsel.(Alma 39:7-10)

     It is interesting to note that although in Joseph Smith's day one sense of the verb to cross was "to contradict," That usage had been outmoded for more than a century, and yet the unfamiliar term is particularly apt in its context. This is an instructive example of how seemingly awkward wording in the Book of Mormon can, upon closer examination of the text itself, prove to be not only correct but also effective and even poetic. [John Gee, "Book of Mormon Word Usage: To Cross Oneself," in FARMS Insights, vol . 21, 2001, p. 4]